By: Jarett Leonard and Dave Souza
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — The last two games that Boston University carried a two-goal lead into the third period, it didn’t end well for the Terriers.
A 3-1 edge against the Massachusetts and a 4-2 lead over Connecticut last night resulted in just one Hockey East point for BU (16-13-3, 11-8-3 Hockey East).
So when Merrimack’s Simon Loof cut the Terrier lead to 2-1 just over two minutes into the third period, it looked as though another letdown was on tap, but this time No. 20 BU closed out a 3-1 win to get back on track headed into the final weekend of the regular season.
“We’ve had a couple games where we’ve let up in the third period and just haven’t finished games and haven’t played the full 60 minutes,” BU freshman forward Logan Cockerill said. “We talked about that after the second when we were up two, just keep playing the right way and it will come. They’re the ones who have to take chances, so it felt good to close that one out.”
Holding on to a 2-1 lead, BU couldn’t convert on an extended two-man advantage, but just after the power play expired, Cockerill took a feed from Brandon Hickey and sniped a wrist shot past Merrimack goaltender Craig Pantano (19 saves) to give the Terriers some breathing room. The goal pushed Cockerill’s active point streak to eight games.
“Our last two games where we’ve gone into the third period with a two-goal lead, we’ve tied and lost. To rebound from it and play the way did was huge.”
Merrimack (9-18-4, 6-14-2 Hockey East) had a chance to get off on the right foot when Hickey was called for major boarding penalty, but BU not only killed the penalty, the Terriers outshot the Warriors, 2-1, over the five minutes. Another kill of a Jake Witkowski boarding penalty had the game scoreless after one.
“We’ve been fragile on the penalty kill because it hasn’t been our friend throughout the season,” Quinn said. “Last night we gave up two on two shots. To kill it and the way we kill I thought really gave us some momentum and confidence. We didn’t survive, we were actually the aggressor. That really set the tone and gave ourselves some confidence and put our guys in a good mindset.”
The pace of the game picked up in the middle frame, and along with it, the rhythm of BU’s offense. First, Shane Bowers collected a loose puck at the top of the crease and ran it back up the slot, where Fabbro walked into a one-timer that just squeaked through Pantano’s pads and into the net for a power play tally. That strike also gave Fabbro an eight-game point streak as well.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Merrimack Head Coach Mark Dennehy said. “We block a shot on their first goal and it hits us and goes in. You do everything right and it ends up in the back of your net.”
Then less than three minutes later, David Farrance took a long outlet pass, faked as if he was going to pull up but kept on going to elude the defender, and set up Gabriel Chabot on the doorstep for a deflection past Pantano.
“I just want to dress our 18 best players and he’s one of them,” Quinn said of Farrance’s conversion to forward. “He’s a hockey player and he’s one of the guys that can go up front and play and do well. He’s doing a good job, he’s creating offense, he’s working hard, and he’s being more physical. That was a heck of a play he made and to me that’s why he’s up front.”
Loof’s first career goal brought Merrimack back into it, as a shot from the right side floated past BU goaltender Jake Oettinger, but the Terriers made sure another third period breakdown was not in the works.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been associated with a team that gives up the goals that we just gave up tonight,” Quinn said. “A 60-foot wrist shot that hits Ty Amonte’s glove and goes in the net. That has happened to us constantly this year and it’s unbelievable.”
Oettinger made 28 saves, including 12 in the third period, to shut the door, an important rebound for the sophomore after allowing five goals on Friday night in Hartford. BU’s penalty kill, which came into the game just four for its last nine, denied all five of Merrimack’s chances and had an important kill in the third period to stem the Warriors’ momentum.
Against the University of Connecticut on Friday night, the Terriers watched as the host Huskies twice rallied from two-goal deficits in the third period. Once down 3-1 and 4-2, UConn continued to rally throughout the final frame, scoring three goals including the equalizer with less than six minutes to go in regulation.
Once in overtime, former BU commit Max Letunov converted on a chance for revenge, collecting a loose puck at the top of the Terrier zone, skating into the slot and wristing a backhander past Oettinger high, stick side to deliver UConn a 5-4 win in overtime.
The loss marked the second conference game in a row in which the Terriers blew two-goal leads in the third period. Last Friday against UMass, the Minutemen erased a 3-1 BU advantage in the final frame to tie the Terriers at Agganis Arena. This time out, the Huskies utilized a trio of goals in the third period to push the game into overtime.
UConn needed just five minutes into the third period to halve the deficit, with some tic-tac-toe passing leading to the strike. With 14:17 remaining in regulation, Spencer Naas made the score 3-2, collecting a feed right on the doorstep of Oettinger on the power play before burying the disc. Max Kalter and Benjamin Freeman recorded assists on the tally after quick tape-to-tape passes set Naas up in front of the net.
After Ty Amonte quickly responded with a goal 17 seconds after the Naas strike, the Huskies again faced a two-goal hole. They began climbing out halfway through the third period, with Kasperi Ojantakanen finding the back of the net.
Letunov began the play near the far point of the offensive zone for UConn, skating around the top of the face-off circle and moving in towards the high slot. The junior forward then unleashed a wrist shot that Ojantakanen tipped home from the slot with just under 10 minutes to go in regulation.
While the Terriers tried to hold firm on defense for the remainder of the third, sophomore Alexander Payusov was able to find the equalizer with 5:37 left on the clock. The forward began the sequence by collecting the puck in the near corner of the BU zone with another Husky helping him grab the disc from the pressing Brien Diffley. Payusov then curled around the top of the face-off circle and – much like Letunov on the previous strike – wristed a lethal shot from the high slot. Instead of a deflection, Payusov’s shot beat Oettinger clean, besting the net minder low, glove side.
Payusov’s tally was the second of two power play goals the Terriers allowed in the game, both of which came in the third period. BU’s lone special teams strike came on a man-advantage of their own back in the first period. That goal came from defenseman Chad Krys, as the sophomore opened the scoring with six minutes to go in the opening period.
After Naas made things even at the beginning of the second, the Terriers went to work in the middle frame, finding two goals. The first of those tallies came from a familiar face, Bobo Carpenter. The junior forward pushed his team lead in goals to 18 with a strike that came just 1:01 after Naas’s. Then, a not-so-familiar face pushed the BU lead to two.
Diffley, a senior defenseman who has seen an uptick in minutes the last slew of games, found the back of the net on a feed from Logan Cockerill to make the score 3-1, where it stood going into the third period.
BU will conclude the regular season next weekend with a two-game series against Vermont at Agganis Arena, as the Terriers are locked in a tight battle for the fourth seed and a home series in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.